The future of women’s cricket
The denouement of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup is almost upon us with just the finals day at Eden Gardens, Kolkata on Sunday 3rd April left for our delectation. Let’s hope that the finals between West Indies and Australia (Women) and West Indies and England do the game and the tournament justice.
One of the great things about this competition is that the men’s and women’s tournaments have been run side by side. This has allowed us to make comparisons and, although they say comparisons are odious, they can also be very instructive. Unfortunately here, in virtually all aspects, the women’s game has been found wanting and there are a number of areas that need to be addressed with some urgency if the women’s game is to progress and reach the level achieved by the men in this short form of the game.
I hope you will not dismiss this article as some form of misogynistic rant as I love the game in all its forms and levels. Watching cricket from test match down to club level is a joy and a privilege for me and I want the women’s game to succeed and prosper. That’s why I feel some changes need to be made.
I think the two women’s semi-finals showed very clearly why something needs to be done. Both were very similar in that the team batting first posted a reasonable total and the chasers started well but could never quite keep up the run chase and ultimately fell short. The relative narrowness of the winning margins actually does not do justice to the comfort of both wins with neither of the chasing teams looking likely to win in the last 2 or 3 overs of their chase.
This does not compare well with the men’s semi-finals or much of the rest of the competition. The key fact is that, in a men’s game, if a team needed 20 runs off the last 2 overs, there was a 50/50 chance of them achieving that goal. In the women’s equivalent, the likelihood was considerably less if not virtually nil.
Yes there is a strength issue. It will be a long time before we see a woman flat batting a ball 80 odd metres back over the bowler’s head but cricket is not just about strength. Some of the greats of the men’s game such as Tendulkar were not big six hitters but were great timers and placers of the ball.
What was disappointing in the women’s game was the poor working of the ball, moving it into gaps and turning the strike over with plenty of singles and twos. This will no doubt improve along with fitness and fielding, which ranged from decent to absolutely appalling. There were far too many very simple catches dropped and this shows the professional game in a very poor light. Also, as referred to by the England coach, fitness needs to be addressed. In their semi-final, England did not run the first run hard and did not put the fielders under pressure in looking for twos from shots not hit directly to fielders. If they had turned just a few singles into twos they would be contesting the final.
Too often batsmen were seen jogging through the runs. One New Zealand batsman was almost run out because of her lack of urgency. Coaches must look at this and impress the need for high fitness and tempo at all times when batting. I would hope to see a big improvement in this by the time of the next World Cup.
I am aware that the slower pitches and the rapidly softening ball has not helped the women’s matches. The bowlers have realised this and taken the pace off the ball making it very hard for the batsmen to score quickly at the end of the innings if the bowling is well-pitched and accurate. This has resulted in some very ugly and, ultimately fruitless cross-batted shots. A cross or flat batted shot (eg hook, pull or cut) is fine if the ball is short and arriving at waist height but will not score you runs on a regular basis if the ball is pitched up and straight.
The problem is that women are not getting value from orthodox shots ie hitting the ball straight in the arc between long on and long off. They are resorting to hitting across the line as more power can be applied and this approach has been unsuccessful in this competition. The question is; how can we speed up the women’s game and get some of those glorious straight sixes that have lit up the men’s matches?
Some of this is technique such as the need to get your feet and body in the right position quickly before hitting the ball and this will no doubt be addressed by the coaches. I never want to see anything like the dismissal of Taylor against Australia in an international match again!
So how do we make the game faster and make sure that the maximum return is obtained for orthodox shots? Some have argued for shorter pitches of maybe 20 or 21 yards. While I am sure the bowlers of a shorter stature would appreciate this, I cannot see it as being a practical solution, particularly if the men’s and women’s competitions continue to be run at the same time on the same pitches. The women bowlers would damage the areas where the ball would pitch in the men’s game and I can’t see the groundsmen or the ICC allowing this to happen. As a result, the women’s pitches would be banished to the edge of the square.
This leaves two factors, the ball and the boundary lengths. The ball at present can weigh between 140 and 151 grams and have a circumference of between 210 and 225mm. In my opinion the ball should be the maximum weight and the smallest size ie 151 grams and 210mm in circumference. The rules could perhaps be changed to allow a slightly smaller size. This would make the ball travel further and faster and be easier to catch.
Finally we come to the boundaries, which, in my opinion, are the crux of the matter. Firstly, these should be much more flexible according to the ground and air conditions. The 65 metres of the stadium at Delhi were too long. This should be the maximum length and used at grounds like Perth (Western Australia) where the pitches are quick. They should be brought in at grounds with low slow pitches and high humidity maybe to 50 metres. This may seem excessive but The Westpac Stadium in Wellington (used for the 50 over World Cup) had very short boundaries in places but it did not detract from the quality of cricket.
That covers the boundaries square on to the batsman but I feel that the straight boundaries should be reduced even further. We must encourage cricketers to play straight and that means providing a high tariff for a straight hit. At present a bowler who can bowl well pitched straight balls with the protection of a long on and long off can restrict a conventional shot maker to one run per ball. Bring in the boundary to allow a well-timed shot to score 4 or even 6 if the aerial route is taken. I do not know what the required boundary length should be but I’m sure some detailed testing could be carried out to determine the proper length based on ground conditions and the type of ball being used.
I hope the above provides some food for thought. In my opinion change is necessary if we want women’s cricket to progress and produce high quality players of the future.